“Put me in, Coach. I’m ready to play today.”

 

snipe girls ready for klan drive byI’ve had a similar experience, but my team didn’t need resurrection.  They were still alive, and you probably don’t recognize their names either: Betita Martinez, Wazir (Willie B.) Peacock, Mike Miller, Chude Pam Parker Allen, Phil Hutchings, Jean Wiley, Don Jelinek, Bruce Hartford,  Jimmy Rogers and Hardy Frye among others.  During the sixties many of these folks were part of a hot Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) team, which triumphed over the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia under the direction of Robert Moses and Stokley Carmichael, names you may recognize.  They were Civil Rights Movement organizers working in “The world of the black sharecropper, invisible to voter registrars and census takers.”  (Don Jelnek)  They registered black voters, taught in freedom schools, held mass meetings, defended other civil rights workers, desegregated public places and prepared their part of the South for a future where black Americans had equal rights.

For four hours on Saturday, March 27, 2010, these folks and many others told their stories to an eager crowd of friends, family, college students and civil rights enthusiasts at the Koret Auditorium in San Francisco  (There was even someone from Pineville, SC, and you’ll learn about that town as you read on.)  Each story was significant, but together these bold and brave people represented the power of historical change.

I watched them make history while I was in high school.  My high school English, U.S. history and government teachers used newscasts of the Movement to teach the philosophy of Thoreau, the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Constitution of the United States.  We watched their nonviolent demonstrations countered by police beatings.  Mass meetings were held in churches, which might be burned.  Individuals were chased and harassed by the Ku Klux Klan.   Some of the people mentioned above were there.

Watching them changed my life.  You see, I so respected their courage and the morality of their stand that I joined the Movement.  I wanted to be like them.  In June of 1965 I volunteered to work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Pineville, South Carolina.  Since then I have written a book about my life-changing experiences, You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You.  Pineville has become my second home and I was asked to speak at the San Francisco gathering myself.

Having my heroes in one space at one time, and being included as a speaker, was an extraordinary moment for me.  I felt an awe and respect far surpassing what Kevin Costner felt with his baseball players.  After all, the Field of Dreams was a fantasy.  Our passion and our dream were real. As a result, our team changed a nation.

 

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